Cathexis Northwest Press
Metamorphosis; Sweet Tooth; The Ilk of Over-planning...
By: John Dorroh
Too many boats named Calypso
and Minnow. so many tadpoles
in the ditch behind your house. the
first time i saw them, i lost my breath.
Tadpoles eat their tails grow into
frogs and leave the water. they hop
into beds and make bumpy cover.
the boats never leave. except to trade
places with tadpoles.
There are pink frogs in New England
that live under piers in quiet bays
and harbors. i’ve seen them. i’ve
tasted them. accidentally.
Maybe there are no pink frogs
in New England. maybe I made
that up. if they are there, with hydraulic
pads stuck sucking to the bottom part
of handrails, they have trouble leaving
I counted four in one week. warmest
breezes of summer. i cupped hurricane
vapor in my palms prayed while boats
passed in white light. Calypso X, Fantastic
Nag, Bump in the Night, Mighty Minnow.
I taste sponge in my morning coffee.
It’s not on the clean side of the wash.
Pouring it down the drain.
Who knows what’s in that water. I take
my chances elsewhere. Like the old woman
who’s had covid and talks
to me much too close. I like her anyway.
She leaves almond cookies in my mailbox
with little notes:
Have a great day! Do something decadent!
Smiley face. Her son died last year in his
sleep. The wife is lost.
Julia Child is still dead. I saw her last night
cooking lemon meringue pie with phyllo.
No one does that.
She had a guest, Chef Robert, who made
Greek almond cookies with anise and ginger.
I find some in my mailbox.
The Ilk of Over-planning or Will I Ever Learn to Live Like the Birds?
We are eating lemons and limes today,
the biggest ones I’ve ever seen, from Belize
the grocer tells me. I bite into sour dreams
and wipe pulp from my face, my swollen lips.
I want a banana daiquiri instead, so creamy and cold
that the coconut freezes on my tongue to heal
scars from living among vines and trees
with uncomplicated trunks. They need branches
and limbs that reach out into the neighbor’s yard,
taunting the dog who lives there. There’s a certain
mysterious beauty to it, living with the possibilities
that you might get bit or fluffed, stung or trapped,
that your constitution becomes unraveled, your timing
snagged by unexpected barbs and stings, twists
in the road, dangerous catwalks, palm trees
hula body trunks and fronds that can slice
open the thickets of veins.
John Dorroh has never fallen into an active volcano, nor has he ever caught a hummingbird. However, he has made bread with monks in Salzburg and drunk their beer. Two of his poems were nominated for Best of the Net. Others have appeared in Feral, Os Pressan, Tilde, and Burningword.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in high school. As a member of the school's literary magazine, I had to read a lot of submissions. Our sponsor, Paul Ruffin, was one of the few adults in my life who helped me see things that I had missed. He knew me as one of his English students and was aware that I had dabbled with poetry. He suggested that I enter a few poems and I did. It was nice to see my name in print in something beside Letters to the
Editor in our local newspaper. Most of my stuff was very cheesy, but a writer has to start somewhere, right?
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I honestly can't recall a specific poem that did that for me. I do recall, however, a particular book that made me want to write. My father died my senior year in high school, and Paul Ruffin came to my house to visit me. He gave me a red book of mostly love poems. Two of his poems were in there. I asked him why he hadn't told his students about it, and he simply shrugged. That book helped me write my first primitive chapbook called "Thin Man's Lights."
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I have so many favorites, but currently I'm in love with the work of Catherine Pierce and Agnes Votja. I've bought everything they've published. I find myself studying their styles. I'm hooked. Catherine has a way of
taking simple objects and ideas and turning them into astounding mini-masterpieces. She makes it look so easy. I love Agnes' minimalist approach. Her love of the land is reflected in each of her books. She captures the essence of the wild Missouri rivers and landforms with so few words. But there are so many others whose work speaks to me: Alicia Mountain, Kevin Prufer, Adam Clay, Jude Marr, Beth Gordon, CT Salazaar, James Tate...
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
My energy reserves are peak in the morning, usually between 9:00 and noon. That's not to say that the other 21 hours of the day are off-limits. I sometimes have a dream and wake up, trudge to my basement office and write "it." I often write on the kitchen table in late afternoon when the sun retreats below the ridge across the road. Most important for me is to write when I have the time. I no longer wait for "the perfect moment" because that hardly ever happens. I use my laptop 90% of the time I'm writing, but I'm not opposed to a yellow legal pad or a spiral-bound notebook. Nothing is off-limits.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I once visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico to see 1.5 million bats fly out of the cave at sunset, spiraling up to a full moon. I wrote a poem about that experience in the shape of a "bat tornado." More often than not, I let the poem take shape organically from the content. For example, if I'm writing a poem about being in a sad place in life, I might omit punctuation and make the poem more vertical and thin. It all depends on the content, what
I'm trying to say, my mood, and the aesthetics of the journal.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Do yourself a favor and READ the works of other poets. Become familiar with the voice of a few poets whose work you adore. Study what they are doing in their poems. And you must be a practitioner by writing and writing
and writing. Don't be afraid to experiment and break rules. Allow the mental chaos in your head to flow down your arms, through your fingertips, and get some words on paper. You have to do this. Chefs hone their culinary
skills by cooking. Painters paint. Tennis players play tennis. Writers must read and write. I don't think there are any short-cuts.
What is your editing process like?
I often edit as I write. Don't get me wrong; I don't let editing get in the way. But it seems to make heavy editing at the end of the process much easier. Editing includes reading for type-os and punctuation errors, finding words that better convey what I'm trying to say. Sometimes editing causes me to revise my work, or to see it in a new light. I'm not afraid to start over or to delete big chunks of my poems. My colleague, Beth Gordon, and I write and read together every Friday night. We discovered early in our eight-year-long writing relationship that we need to hear our work read out loud. That's the most important part of the editing process. We use a combination of reading each other's work and reading our own to each other. Since we began doing this, our acceptance rates increased significantly.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Sometimes when I think a poem is finished, it isn't. If, once I walk away from it, it keeps bobbling in my head, I know I have to go back to the poem and see how I can make it better. Often once a poem has been accepted and subsequently published, I see it in print and go, "Oh, no...I see so many weak spots...." But it's too late then. We need to be careful and send in the very best work that we know how to do. And to answer the question, is a poem really ever finished? No. But there has to be a stopping point.